Over Labor Day weekend, newspapers from New York, Long Island and clear across to Hollywood reported the deaths of a 23-year-old male graduate of Syracuse University and a 20-year-old female student at the University of New Hampshire that took place during the second day of the Electric Zoo electronic dance music festival at Randalls Island Park in New York City.

The fatalities were reportedly linked to the drug MDMA, better known as Ecstasy or “molly.” Four others ended up in hospital intensive care units. One major daily reported 31 drug-related arrests and the possible sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl at the event. After the city’s official recommendation, the festival’s last day was canceled.

These types of incidents are becoming less isolated.

In July 2012, after a rave festival in Mansfield, Mass., Boston news sources reported that two died, nearly 20 ended up in the hospital, and 45 were arrested. A February 2013 article in the Los Angeles Times attributed 14 drug-related deaths and other major problems at what are today usually called “electronic music festivals.” And on Sept. 27, the three-day Tomorrowland electronic dance music festival came to Chattahoochee Hills, Ga., near Atlanta.

Once always referred to simply as “raves,” massive, high-energy dance parties, with fast-pounding electronic music enhanced by intricate laser light shows, have spread across the United States, attracting tech-savvy youth mostly between the ages of 12 and 25. Young people seeking thrills and exhilaration in partying is nothing new, but today the stakes have increased dramatically. Our youth are at the mercy of their culture.

So is the rave party and its associated subculture just another usually innocuous youth antic, or a dangerous entré into the world of designer drugs — and a place of major spiritual dangers?

Originating in Europe in the 1980s, the rave movement grew into a worldwide business “characterized by high entrance fees, extensive drug use … very dark and often dangerously overcrowded dance floors and 'chill rooms,' where teenage ravers go to cool down and often engage in sexual activity. Moreover, many club owners and promoters appear to promote the use of drugs — especially MDMA [Ecstasy-molly],” reported the National Drug Intelligence Center, which until 2012 was part of the U.S. Justice Department.

After a teen died at an electronic music festival in Texas, retired Los Angeles Police Department narcotics investigator and rave authority Trinka Parrota told the Dallas News that these events “are drug fests. That’s all they are. Most kids would tell you, ‘Why would I go to a rave if I wasn’t going to use drugs?’”

San Bernadino, Calif., lawyer James Penman asserted that “a rave without drugs is like a rodeo without horses. They don’t happen!”


A Dangerous Drug by Any Other Name

“Molly,” today’s common name for Ecstasy, is considered a vital dimension of the rave to heighten the stimulation level of the senses.

It is an addictive psychotropic drug that, combined with the music and laser show, induces a trance and an overpowering feeling of euphoria, radical self-expression, freedom and self-awareness. Thus the frequent expression: “rave trance dance.”

Along with the drug’s high can come hyperthermia and dehydration and a raft of serious physical reactions. Overdoses are not uncommon. And besides the illegal drug trafficking involved in the sale, the youth are very vulnerable to sexual predators at these events because of their impaired conditions.

Those avoiding the emergency room still face major post-usage effects of molly-Ecstasy, including listlessness, depression, excessive mood swings and eating disorders.

Dr. Marc Galanter, the director of substance abuse at New York University School of Medicine, said that it is not uncommon for young people who use ecstasy to become psychotic.

These are not benign experiences, as cast by supporters, who associate raves with peace, love, unity, respect, tolerance and happiness in a manner that appeals to youth. As a result of this portrayal, many — especially parents — are lulled into a false sense of security about their children participating in these events.

And moving these raves from clubs to venues like parks and sports stadiums also can give parents a false sense of security.


Major Spiritual Dangers Abound

In its essence, rave music — sometimes referred to as “Goa Trance,” “Psychedelic Trance” or “Psytrance” — is used to draw the participants into a euphoric state of transcendence and oneness with each other and the universe. It constitutes a class of electronic music designed to produce hypnotic arrangements of synthetic rhythms and multilayered melodies driven by a rapid, pulsating tempo. The trained DJs pride themselves in facilitating this “trance state.”

Perhaps most worrisome are the occult overtones evident in the genesis of the movement.

Australian anthropologist Graham St. John, an authority on electronic dance music culture, has written on the underlying foundation of the rave phenomenon in Rave Culture and Religion (Routledge, 2004), with its Eastern mysticism, characterized by pantheism, occultist manifestations, ritualistic shamanism, astrology and hedonism.

Another rave authority, Phil Kirby, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Liverpool, England, has favorably reviewed St. John’s Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures (Berghahn Books).

Occult imagery is rampant in the artwork, and the rave’s spiritual roots are found in Goa, India, among the practitioners of yoga and ancient shaman dance rituals.

Some rave CDs speak of astral projection (an out-of-body experience wherein the soul supposedly leaves the body and “travels” into “higher realms”) and appeal to Shiva, the supreme god of Hinduism.

The music, especially combined with the drugs, can open one to occult powers, demonic oppression or even possession, according to Father Gabriel Amorth, at one time the chief exorcist of Rome.


A Spiritual Solution Needed

The problem with the rave is fundamentally spiritual, so the solution is also spiritual. Some alert mothers from Nice, France, inspired by the Bible account of the siege of Jericho in the Book of Joshua, organized “Operation Jericho.”

Rosaries in hand and Psalters in their pockets, they circled the proposed site of a rave concert for seven days, praying for Divine intervention. As they completed their intercessory prayers, the festival was unexpectedly canceled.

Operation Jericho was also put into action when a rave was scheduled in the French town of Provence. The day of the concert opened with a beautiful, sunny morning. The prayers began just as early. In the afternoon, a surprise thunderstorm suddenly washed out that event.

At the aforementioned Electric Zoo in New York, several people took part in Operation Jericho on site for two days.

Concerned parents from Long Island, N.Y., have also turned to the image of the Inexhaustible Cup, a Russian Orthodox icon through which Our Lady has liberated many from substance addiction. They also recommend devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus for the spiritual healing of sons and daughters.

Not only mothers and fathers, but the entire local Church, need to be engaged in a figurative siege of Jericho whenever our children are at risk.

The universal Church must also meet the challenge. In the face of these threats to our young people, we must invoke the Most Holy Name of Mary and entrust them to her protective care.

As Blessed John Paul II declared, “Christ will conquer through her, because he wants the Church’s victories now and in the future to be linked to her.”

Father Timothy Byerley is a priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey,

and former director of young-adult ministry for the diocese.